Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man

There were originally supposed to be two sessions devoted to Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man but due to illness they were collapsed into one session. I've included both "questionings" below, the first for the first half of the book and the second for the second half.

This post is part of a series from my CMNS 857 Philosophy of Technology seminar with Andrew Feenberg. For more information, see this linked post.

Sent for January 28, 2013

My questions for One-Dimensional Man are many. What I at first thought I "got" I am now unsure of having gotten. I assume I was looking for the later half of the book to fully answer my questions; wrap the questions up like Christmas presents. I now am leaving the text understanding that I will have to return to it again in the future for a more careful treatment (something I did not anticipate--in ways Marcuse was more difficult to understand than Heidegger).

My questions (how can there be just one??) will hopefully make more sense as I type them out - so if you are looking for a quick scan to get to the actual question, skip to the bottom.

There is a playing with language that seems to be common to critical theory--and I think it is often connected to dialectics: the positive and the negative and their relationship. I am fluent in the meanings of the felt-senses and the positive-ness of positivism, but I have difficulty switching conceptually back and forth between the positive and negative as Marcuse does throughout.

A second question bubbles up from reading in between the lines; the subject matter and content are no doubt serious for Marcuse. However, there are many instances where he seems to be making a point tongue-in-cheek, not to be funny, but to signify the absurdity of the irrationality of the rational? Is this a correct reading?

A final question, that could be a common thread between the first two, just how and where does art, the aesthetic, exist within ODM? Is it a savior a la Heidegger? Or is it too far gone into technological rationality?

So here are a few of my questions:

1) Positive and negative
2) There are many instances where he seems to be making a point tongue-in-cheek, not to be funny, but to signify the absurdity of the irrationality of the rational? Is this a correct reading?
3) Where is art in ODM?

And, there is one more: Are advanced industrial societies beyond a point of no return? Marcuse doesn't seem to have much hope for us. Should we hope?

Sent for Jan 21:

If I define “getting it” as a subset of “understanding” which could be included under the category of “knowing,” I think I “get” what Marcuse is gesturing towards in the first half of One-Dimensional Man. However, I do not think I can claim my “getting” based on my own initiative; I was benefitted by others’ insight through critical summaries on websites and lectures on YouTube. Even with a general sense of “getting it” -- my question(s) will quickly uncover my misunderstandings of the nuances and my own faulty understandings and knowings.

My hesitation to put into words my thoughts, I think, represents the question that I assume everyone wants an answer to: How do we escape? Can we escape? What would escaping mean? Would it be another step in a predetermined technological rationality? But this is too broad and easy a question. In what ways do we (I) always already act in such a way to fulfill the technological rationality that thickens the context (atmosphere? being?) of modernity? How does one speak authentically (if this word is appropriate) post-One-Dimensional Man? In the speaking, which for this purpose is the striking of keys by my fingers, there is the hesitation; is what I am about to say worth saying? Is it accessible? If what I am saying, the way I am using my language, is not of one dimension, can it be heard (understood? known?)? What ways have I structured my language (understanding, concepts, thinking) such that I think I have access to beyond a single dimension where I really do not?

Where does this leave technologies (in the ontic)? And then how might this be in relationship to technological rationality? Surely there is commodification, consumerism. But what else? Is this (a relationship to technology, technological rationality) a “matter of fact” or another epoche? Might Heidegger’s QCT be helpful in pulling technology and rationality apart? Can they be pulled apart, or are they one and the same, shades of each other?

The more I think, the more I let ODM sink into my thoughts, the more I can see a Heideggerian influence; the identifying and challenging of conceptual presuppositions related to modern industrial societies. I know some of these questions might be addressed and resolved in the latter half of the book, but they exist for me now. And try as I might, I am fighting the nuances to land in a similar question to where I landed with Heidegger: What’s next? Now what? Here’s the alarming part, however -- is my asking of those questions part of the problem?


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